This is the eighth of a 10-part series that examines how well the Buffalo Bills have addressed each position during the offseason. Today’s installment looks at the secondary.
If Rex Ryan is to be believed, the Bills appear to have found someone very special at the very bottom of their 2016 draft.
That was the second of the Bills' two sixth-round picks, Kevon Seymour, starting at cornerback opposite Ronald Darby in Tuesday's OTA practice. Seymour was only working with the first unit because Stephon Gilmore chose to stay away from One Bills Drive as he tries to work out a long-term deal with the team.
But Seymour, a former USC standout, still was given a prestigious designation -- one that caused him to vault over multiple veteran cornerbacks on the depth chart.
"Well, he has already elevated, kind of like what we saw immediately with Ronald Darby, how we knew Darby … had the chance to be special," Ryan said.
The big difference is that Darby was a second-round pick who was thrown into the starting lineup immediately and proved to be one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. As the last of the Bills' seven draft choices, Seymour's chances of having that sort of success seemed a bit more remote.
"I am not going to put him in that (Darby) class yet, but we are close," Ryan said. "And so we bumped him up to the first team (Tuesday), and he has done a great job."
Here's the breakdown at the secondary:
Returning: Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Aaron Williams, Corey Graham, Mario Butler, Nickell Robey, Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks, Sammy Seamster, Jonathan Dowling and Phillip Thomas.
Newcomers: Kevon Seymour (sixth-round draft pick, USC), Javier Arenas (FA), Robert Blanton (FA), Sterling Moore (FA), Colt Anderson (FA), Corey White (FA) and Julian Whigham (UDFA, Syracuse).
Better, worse or the same?: The OTA sessions are voluntary, so Gilmore's absence isn't a big deal. He's expected to be on hand when the Bills hold their mandatory minicamp in mid-June.
But even if Seymour proves to be a reliable third cornerback who sees extensive action against the three- and four-receiver sets opponents commonly use, his arrival, alone, makes the Bills better in their secondary.
"This kid looks like the real and deal and we will see," Ryan said. "… when Steph comes back, obviously, (Seymour) will be behind him. (But) he certainly looks the part right now."
The team considers signing Gilmore to a contract extension a priority, and would like to have a deal in place before the start of the season. Complicating matters are the mammoth free-agency agreements recently signed by cornerbacks Josh Norman (who went from Carolina to Washington) and Janoris Jenkins (who went from the Los Angeles Rams to the New York Giants). Still, Gilmore will be playing for this season, regardless of how the negotiations turn out. He'll either be playing for a new contract with Buffalo or another team, and that should motivate him to have another strong season.
Darby figures to only get better in his second season. He has gone through his rookie growing pains and has a better understanding of the speed of the NFL game and a more comprehensive book on opposing receivers.
Aaron Williams' return to safety is a huge boost, provided, of course, he is able to hold up after under going surgery to repair a neck injury that caused him to miss 13 games last season. Williams is fully participating in non-contact offseason workouts. The more definitive proof of his recovery will come in contact drills in training camp and the preseason.
Here's more food for thought: The Bills focused on adding secondary depth with low-level free-agent signings. One player to watch at safety is Robert Blanton, who spent the previous four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Blanton was noticeably vocal in practice, directing traffic in the secondary and generally making sure everyone was lined up properly.
"I really liked him when he came out of college (Notre Dame); he played corner, safety, so he kind of fit that new breed, if you will, at safety that they’re playing in this league," Ryan said. "A guy that has the ability to play man-coverage and all that. But, man, he’s been sharp, there is no question about that. When he came in for a visit we kind of thought he definitely had that to him."
Next: Special teams.